Friends of Josh Kruger defend his memory

Josh Kruger headshot

As police continue to search for the alleged killer of Josh Kruger, his friends recalled the award-winning gay journalist as a caring individual at variance with published reports indicating he was a sexual predator.

Kruger, 39, was an award-winning gay journalist who covered the plight of numerous individuals, including victims of gun violence, the unhoused and those living with HIV. On Oct. 2, around 1:30 a.m. he was shot multiple times inside his Point Breeze residence and died about 45 minutes later.

Robert Edmond Davis, 19, is a suspect in Kruger’s homicide.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, close relatives of Davis have suggested Kruger was involved sexually with Davis for about five years prior to Kruger’s death. They also conjectured that Kruger supplied Davis with illicit drugs and threatened to publicly disclose their relationship if Davis didn’t comply with Kruger’s sexual desires.

Justin F. Robinette, a local attorney who was a friend of Kruger, scoffed at the notion that Kruger would threaten to out someone on social media. 

“Josh was a very kind, compassionate person,” Robinette told PGN. “I can’t imagine him ever treating someone the way Mr. Davis’ relatives expressed in the Inquirer story. That would be so out-of-character for him.”

Robinette stopped short of expressing an opinion regarding whether Kruger was involved sexually with Davis. 

“But even if that were true, it really has nothing to do with his cold-blooded murder,” Robinette continued. “Some gay men have sex and do drugs. That’s not a reason to murder someone. And let’s not forget Josh Kruger isn’t here to defend himself.”

Robinette emphasized he wasn’t condoning child sexual exploitation but noted that Kruger wasn’t alive to give his side of the story.

Robinette said LGBTQ+ individuals often are victimized by another person’s internalized homophobia. He said such a situation might have contributed to Kruger’s death. If that were the case, Robinette said, Kruger actually was the victim of a hate crime.

“People with internalized homophobia can project their internal self-hatred onto others,” Robinette added. “They lash out, sometimes violently. That might have been Mr. Davis’ mental state. This is all speculation. But if a major publication is going to promote speculation and victim-shame regarding Josh — I can speculate too.”

Another friend of Kruger, who requested anonymity, echoed Robinette’s sentiments. 

“[The] deeply disturbing statements [in the Inquirer] warrant a full and impartial investigation,” Kruger’s friend said in an email. “While it paints a damning picture of a person I thought I knew well, it also ties up far too many loose ends far too conveniently. Josh was always very open and very candid about his personal life, and he was known to be connected to many people struggling with substance abuse.”

Kruger’s friend added: “If Mr. Davis’ account is truthful, then he should make his testimony in a court of law, rather than leaving his relatives to engage in character assassination in the court of public opinion.”

Kruger was a Christian and regularly attended St. Mark’s Church in Rittenhouse. Another friend of Kruger, who requested anonymity due to his close association with the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, expressed frustration with the negative published reports.

“If the kid [Davis] has such an ironclad defense and the family has provided that defense for him in the media — why isn’t he turning himself in?” the 45-year-old man asked in a phone interview. “It’s been a rollercoaster. There’s not gonna be peace until we know what happened that night.”

The friend also cast doubt on social media reports that it was an “open secret” Kruger was a sexual predator.

“If that’s the case, and Josh was a predator, why didn’t anyone report him to authorities?” the man posed.

A review of Kruger’s writings and social-media posts show him to be a caring individual who steadfastly championed the downtrodden. He wrote evocatively about victims of gun violence, racism and social ostracism. He also spoke candidly about being gay-bashed and about his mental-health challenges. But he stressed multiple times on social media that he’s been “clean and sober” for years, after a lengthy period of substance abuse.

Kruger previously wrote that he abhorred sexual exploitation of any kind. 

“Bragging about sexual assault isn’t locker room talk,” Kruger posted in 2016. “It’s a criminal pathology. We must refuse to normalize this.”

Regarding racism, Kruger posted in 2020: “We white people need to have a group conversation about the insidiousness of passive white supremacy.”

Kruger embraced all sorts of diversity, including sports enthusiasts. Though he wasn’t a football fan, he encouraged others to tolerate the enthusiasm of Eagles fans that ensued during the team’s quest for a Super Bowl win. 

But Kruger could also be harsh in his opinion of well-known individuals. For example, he called Caitlin Jenner a “jerk,” while emphasizing that he totally respected her gender identity. It was her right-wing politics that Kruger vehemently opposed.

An avid cyclist, Kruger documented with photos his passion for cycling in the city. He lavished love and devotion on his pet cat Mason. (Friends say Mason is in good hands and living on South 13th Street.) Additionally, Kruger took great pride in his row home. On social media, he spotlighted a faux fireplace that he built and a “catio” (cat patio) for Mason. 

Ironically, Kruger wrote in Philadelphia Magazine about his deep concern regarding gun violence. 

“Constitutionally and legally, the city can’t do much of anything about gun control,” Kruger wrote.

Regarding premature judgments in the media, Kruger posted this in 2023: “Journalists: It is not reportable as fact, any claim made by a district attorney or police officer, any more than it is reportable as fact what a defendant’s attorney says at trial. It might be true. But it has the dye of that person’s interests coloring it.”

Not everyone in the LGBTQ+ community is defending Kruger’s memory. Ernest Owens, an award-winning journalist and podcaster, had critical words regarding Kruger on social media

“Disgusted to hear the update regarding Josh Kruger,” Owens wrote in a recent post. “I didn’t want to speak ill of the dead while people were mourning. But I’m not very surprised by this. This is unfortunate, but we need to address the ways white gay men terrorize Black & brown queer bodies.”

Owens added: “And let me be clear: That upcoming memorial for Josh Kruger at the William Way LGBT Center needs to be canceled. We don’t memorialize people who sexually abuse and cause harm to vulnerable youth. Full stop.”

A Celebration of Life for Kruger, previously scheduled for Oct. 29 at the William Way LGBT Center, has been canceled. 

“With the allegations that have recently surfaced about Josh’s murder and the complexities involved, we don’t believe that we can create a safe space, either for Josh’s friends and family, or for those who have rightful anger and concerns over allegations of child sexual abuse,” the center’s senior staff said in an email. “As more is revealed about the facts of the case, we hope that together we can figure out the right next steps to acknowledge and remember the many victims in this case– individuals, families and communities.”

The District Attorney’s Office had no comment regarding criticisms of Kruger appearing in published reports. 

“As this is an active criminal investigation that will likely be resolved with arrest and prosecution of the individual responsible for this murder, we cannot comment,” said Jane Roh, a spokesperson for DA Larry Krasner, in an email.

Rev. Daniel G.P. Gutierrez, bishop of the Episcopal Diocesan of Pennsylvania, issued this statement regarding his friend: “Josh was a member of St. Mark’s in Philadelphia…May he rest in peace and rise in glory. This is especially painful because he is part of our family. Josh, we will miss you…But let us never forget the thousands of families in this community and in this city who are suffering the same type of pain because of gangs, gun violence, abuse and all of the ills that are affecting society…. Josh, we will hold you close. We love you.”

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Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, and the Keystone Press.